POLICE have moved to reassure the public over an urban myth about armed gangs shooting people.

Lewisham Hospital staff became scared when letters were distributed warning them not to alert motorists driving at night without their lights on.

The warning, apparently from the police, said the motorists are gang members who, as part of an initiation ceremony, have to shoot at people who make gestures at them about their lights.

Following a flurry of calls from worried members of the public, police have released a statement saying the letter is not from them and is nothing but an urban myth originating from an email.

A Lewisham Hospital worker, refusing to be named even after being told it was a hoax, alerted News Shopper after picking up the letter from a table in the Henry Woodward Care of the Elderly ward.

A hospital spokesman said the letters were not officially distributed and have been removed.

He said: "There were some of these letters about but they have been taken away and we cannot find who placed them there. Most people realised this is just not something that happens."

The email has been doing the rounds in America since August 1993. It has been reproduced in various forms and spreads rapidly by preying on people's fears. But there hasn't been a single recorded instance of such a shooting.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "We have had a number of calls from worried people but the warning has not come from us. As far as we are aware, this is not happening in London. This is an urban myth."

In 1998, an American slasher film called Urban Legend was a smash hit in which a serial killer bases his murders on a myth.


>> Police warning

>> One of the officers who works with the DARE programme has passed along the following warning and asked that it be shared with all drivers.

>> This is an extremely serious matter. If you are driving after dark and you see a car without its headlights on do not flash your lights, do not blow your horn or make any signals to the driver of the other car. This is a new common gang initiation game going on the streets.

>> The new member being initiated drives along without his headlights on until someone notices and flashes their headlights or makes some other action to signal him. The gang member is now required to chase the car and to shoot at or into the car in order to complete his initiation requirements.

>> Please take this seriously. This is not a joke. Please pass this on to everyone you know on email and in person. It could save someone's life!